Four First Nation bands in British Columbia’s interior are looking to meet with the province’s main chiefs organizations in hopes of defusing a potential showdown between the RCMP and the members of the Unist’ot’en camp which has dug-in along the path of two proposed natural gas pipelines.
Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Karen Ogen said requests have been sent to the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the First Nations Summit and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations to set up a meeting this week that would include representatives of the camp anchored by the Unist’ot’en clan, which is part of the Wet’suwet’en nation.
Ogen, along with Nee Tahi Buhn Chief Ray Morris, Burns Lake Band Chief Dan George, and Skin Tyee Nation Chief Rene Skin issued a statement Monday saying the Unist’ot’en cland did not speak for all the communities.
The Unist’ot’en camp has dug-in over the past five years in an area along the routes for Chevron’s proposed 480 kilometre Pacific Trail Pipeline and TransCanada’s 670 km Coastal GasLink pipeline. Both pipelines are slated to carry natural gas from the province’s interior to a proposed LNG facility in Kitimat, B.C., on the coast.
The camp sits roughly about 66 km south of Houston, B.C., and about 1,000 km north of Vancouver.
TransCanada filed a complaint with the RCMP after some of its workers were turned away at a Unist’ot’en check-point on a road leading to Coastal GasLink’s planned corridor. Workers with Chevron’s Pacific Trail Pipeline are said to be clearing a pipeline corridor about 2 km from the Unist’ot’en camp.
“We want to sit down with the Unist’ot’en, we need to find a way through this and at the same time, protect our environment,” said Ogen. “We are asking the leadership council to help us resolve it.”
Ogen they are looking for “balance” between the need for jobs and the environment.
UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Philip and BC AFN regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson travelled to the Unist’ot’en camp Monday to get a handle of the situation on the ground.
Tensions escalated last week after rumours emerged that the RCMP was planning to raid the camp. The RCMP tried to douse those rumours saying it had no plans to take down the camp and was operating in a neutral role maintaining the peace.
Ogen said TransCanada is considering re-routing its pipeline around the camp to prevent any potential conflict. She said there are about 20 First Nations along the Coastal GasLink route and the majority have signed onto the project.
Ogen said 16 First Nations have also signed onto the Pacific Trail Pipeline, including the Moricetown band which counts two Unist’ot’en clan members as band councillors, including Freda Huson, the main spokesperson for the camp, and her uncle Warner William, a clan leader.
“They have contractual obligations with Pacific Trail Pipeline they have to abide by,” said Ogen.
Huson said she recently ran for band councillor to educate the band leadership about Indigenous rights and to prevent the First Nation from signing onto the GasLink project. She said the agreement signed by the band with Pacific Trail does not apply to the Unist’ot’en’s unceded land.
“We are not treaty, we never ceded and surrendered our land,” she said.
Huson said GasLink won’t be allowed through, even if TransCanada tries to build around the camp.
“They are not coming through either way, no matter what,” she said. “They are just thinking it’s just this location. This location was chosen strategically,” said Huson. “Band councils only have jurisdiction like municipalities and our hereditary system does not give over authority to band councils.”
Huson said the clan leadership needs to discuss whether they would accept a meeting with the bands and the regional chiefs organizations.
She said Unist’ot’en representatives also have a meeting scheduled with the RCMP on Tuesday.
The RCMP has transmitted a position to First Nations leadership that the federal police believes the Unist’ot’en camp is blocking a public road which is a criminal offence. The RCMP believes this gives the police grounds to take down the camp without a court injunction.
Huson said the camp’s legal advice has determined the road to be a forest service road on Crown land. Huson said the road is blocked most of the winter by snow and the province makes no effort to keep it open year-round. Huson said the camp is not blocking the road as it has allowed tree-planters, some loggers and wilderness guides through its check-point.
Huson also said Supreme Court decisions on Aboriginal rights and title are on the side of the Unist’ot’en assertion of its sovereignty over the territory.
“I wrote a letter to (Chief) Karen Ogen asking why she has our territory on her map. How do you own these territories? We know this is ours, she doesn’t have any stories of her ancestors being out here trapping,” said Huson.
The Unist’ot’en camp is also in an area along the corridor for Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline which faces widespread resistance from First Nations in British Columbia.